“I was born blind so, I tend to say blind rather than disabled, because I don’t know any difference really.”
I first joined Accenture in 2000 when it was Anderson Consulting so you could say I’ve been here since the year dot.
Before Accenture, I worked in the voluntary sector for 18 months as a personal assistant for various teams but for lots and lots of reasons, I felt like the job was not for me and found myself having to leave that organisation and then I relocated back up North.
As a blind person, trying to find new employment at the time, was quite difficult. It’s still very much the case today, even with the equalities act and subsequent legislation, research from the RNIB claims around 70% of visually impaired people of working age are still not in employment. I found when I was approaching employers it was a case of ‘well you’ve lived in London previously and therefore are you going to stay with us?’ so that was another barrier in itself as employers assumed I was not necessarily going to stay with them. It got to a point where I was literally applying for anything.
I went back on benefits and my employment advisor at the time was trying to persuade me to claim incapacity benefit which was obviously not what I wanted to do. I’m a graduate, I graduated in 1996 and, apart from the 18 months when I was out of work, I’ve always paid my dues, my taxes and national insurance and I wanted to continue to do so - I didn’t want to be another statistic.
Fortunately, I was contacted by someone who asked me to do some voluntary work with them at the Warrington Disability Information Service where I was instrumental in helping to set up a transcription service for promoting accessible information and transcribing information into braille. Then, Accenture came along and suddenly the whole outlook was very different - their approach was just tell us what you need, and we’ll accommodate you.
I now wear many hats in the organisation but they all generally full under the theme of customer service. Right now, I am responsible for managing various mail boxes and most of my day is spent answering queries. I also look after the homeworking scheme for UK and Ireland which involves working with spreadsheets and responding to requests and I’m responsible for about two and a half thousand records.
There’s quite a lot of variety and I always enjoying working with people. In 2017, I had a great opportunity to work with the global team from America for 14 months on a secondment (based in the UK), looking at accessibility and evaluating over 100 web pages. It was a worthwhile experience but also quite challenging as web testing using a screen reader can be quite tedious. I had to try to document any issues I had with pages but because of the visual nature of a web page it can sometimes be quite difficult to explain why it isn’t necessarily accessible. As a totally blind person I use the speech software JAWS for Windows and I also use a braille display which consists of a bar that sits in front of the computer and whatever line you’re on that information is also displayed in braille, so it gives you some context of the page. There are lots of ways that a website can be made accessible through using alt.tags for example, but if the front-end or the back-end coding aren’t set up for accessibility, it can be very difficult to understand.
When you’re taking a journey through life you don’t always appreciate what you are doing at the time but, this work provided a great framework and gave me a really positive piece of mind. I got to work closely with people from various backgrounds and it gave me an insight into workplace accessibility. I have since had the opportunity to speak on panel groups and helped with some training the US rolled out which involved a 40-minute interview with a number of other panellists. And, as I’m very interested in technology and specifically finding solutions that work for me such as my iPhone, I’ve recently published a blog on accessible apps and the feedback from that has been extremely positive.
In general Accenture are happy to adopt reasonable adjustments which makes all the difference. For example, when applying for positions here you can send in a CV rather than complete the complex forms that we have. You can take disability leave and I’ve trained with several guide dogs over the years (I’m now on to guide dog number six) and for each dog I have, it requires taking time out to train with the dog and ensure I can get to the office safely and function safely within the office.
My latest guide dog is a German Shephard and she’s called Nola, and she’s completely unfazed in the office and a very sociable dog (sometimes a bit too sociable). My first guide dog was a typical Labrador and I had to send emails around saying please do not feed the dog - it was a great way of meeting people and it got hilarious as well because colleagues would come up to me and say I left my sandwiches on my desk yesterday and when I came back they’d gone! The dog used to wait until I was on the phone and then wander off around the office to see what food he could find.
Alongside my day-to-day work, I’m an active member of our enablement committee and coordinate Accenture’s partnership with the Business Disability Forum where we arrange and sponsor about six workshops a year. I even give the small introduction to Accenture and the work we do at the start of each workshop. I’m registered with Ability Net and I’m occasionally called upon to do some work with them including some accessibility testing. I also sit on the consumer panel for the charity Vocaleyes who specialise in providing access to the arts to visually impaired people – museums, theatre and architecture through audio description.
I like to get involved with charity work too and 2009 was a gamechanger for me. Accenture was arranging for a team to go and climb Kilimanjaro and I joined 24 people from around the globe for the trek. It was an incredible experience but a full-time job in itself because we had lots of pre-trek events organised and then there was the training that goes into doing something like this. It was a full six months of preparation including organising all the travel and flights too. Although it was an Accenture initiative, I was told I could bring somebody along with me to act as my companion and my friend (who is also partially sighted) volunteered. By doing the trek, I raised over £8,000 for Voluntary Services Overseas – which was amazing! I also take the advantage of Accenture's 3 paid days for charity leave to support several charities including Guide Dogs for the Blind where I have assisted in public awareness events and campaign work.
Working here I love the people, I love the variety and the challenges. As a blind person – I tend to say blind rather than disabled because I was born blind so I don’t know any difference really - you’re going to have challenges but even if people don’t have the answers, they will help you to find your way through. I’ve always felt I’ve been able to approach anyone and talk about any challenges and they will be taken onboard.
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